Community Politics

Louisville homeless camps that were slated for removal are no longer at risk, at least through the holidays.

Mayor Greg Fischer has suspended the clearing of homeless camps in Louisville until procedures for notifying camp residents are formalized, he announced at a press conference with advocates for homeless people on Monday. He also announced the creation of a task force to examine and improve existing procedures related to homeless camps.

Fischer defended Louisville’s reputation as a “compassionate city,” an image that has come under fire recently as homeless camps have been cleared to make way for developments such as the upcoming soccer stadium in Butchertown.

“There have been some occasions when we have not lived up to our standards, and a few locations when they happened because of a property where a campsite is being developed on private property,” Fischer said. “But the vast majority of these cleanups happen for public safety and public health reasons.”

He pointed to a Hepatitis A outbreak among Louisville’s homeless community as an example of the type of problem that requires a camp to be cleaned up.

“It is a hand-to-mouth transmission, unlike Hepatitis B and C that’s usually spread by blood, this one is just like any normal stomach bug,” said Dr. Sarah Moyer, director of the Louisville Metro Department of Public Health and Wellness.

The way the city tackles homelessness could also be affected by external factors, like the federal Republican tax bill. Already this year, the Coalition for the Homeless — which will participate in city’s new task force — received about $1.2 million less in funding from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development than usual. And affordable housing advocates are concerned that the tax changes could hurt the city’s supply.

“We don’t know what the specifics are, but the outlook is not positive,” Fischer told reporters after the press conference.

The Proposed Ordinance

Now, Fischer said the city won’t remove any more encampments until at least January. Such activity will resume either when Metro Council passes an ordinance codifying how camp residents are notified of clearing activity or when procedures around such activity are updated, he said.

The ordinance in question has already been proposed by Ninth District Councilman Bill Hollander. It would require Metro to give notice 21 days before clearing a camp, as well as require the city to keep personal items for owners to pick up later.

Hollander said Louisville is making more of an effort to support affordable housing than in the past.

“I think we need to make certain that those efforts are helping everyone, including our most vulnerable people,” Hollander said at the press conference.

Fischer said he supports Hollander’s proposal and hopes to sign the ordinance into law soon. Louisville Metro will assess the cleanliness of camps in mid-January.

Natalie Harris, executive director of the nonprofit Coalition for the Homeless, thanked the mayor, other officials and citizens who support those who are homeless in Louisville.

But she said the problem will persist unless Louisville has more housing solutions.

“Until we can figure out how to get more affordable housing in our community and more safe shelter and alternatives for people to be in until they can get into our housing, we’re in trouble, we have citizens who are sleeping on the street,” Harris said.

 

 

Amina Elahi is WFPL's City Reporter.